Lakers 109, Magic 106

If you got up to get a beer after the first quarter Friday, you might have missed a stretch that left the imagination to run wild. It featured Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard going back and forth, showing why they could dominate the NBA for the next decade or so.

Bynum got things started by using a back cut to beat Howard and finishing an alley-oop pass with a layup. The next possession, Bynum threw a nice pass from the high post to Vladimir Radmanovic for a basket. Howard came back with a huge dunk over Bynum while being fouled.

Bynum sank two free throws at the other end, then jumped out to block a Keith Bogans shot back on defense. The Lakers pushed forward and Jordan Farmar knocked down a 3-pointer. Howard then checked out for the first time all game at the 9:33 mark.

That left Bynum matched up against Tony Battie. He had a chance to really make something out of the quarter but committed the kind of foul that reminds you he’s only 19 years old. Instead of staying on the floor, Bynum went for the block on Battie and was called for a third foul. He sat the last 8:20 of the half.

“It was disappointing for me because I had a bunch of minutes out there that I could have played and they were taken away from me,” Bynum said. “I did get going in the second quarter and I got taken out of the game with fouls. . . .I’m going to have to learn to stay out there without getting in foul trouble.”

Lakers coach Phil Jackson said: “Sometimes you just have to play body defense and nights like tonight you can’t be reaching, you can’t get your arms caught in there or your hands caught in there. Those were the situations tonight that got him in problems.”

Jackson remarked before the game that he had yet to see “the real Dwight Howard.” Kwame Brown succeeded in bodying up Howard last month in Orlando. He finished with 12 points and 8 rebounds in that game. When the Lakers played in Orlando last season, Howard was injured early in the first quarter.

“Howard proved to be pretty awesome in there for him to guard,” Jackson said.

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There was a good story that got lost in all the Chris Webber saga. After the Lakers shootaround Friday, forward Ronny Turiaf met for a half-hour with 16-year-old Garylee Zuniga of Aztec, N.M. Zuniga suffers from a serious heart defect; Turiaf underwent surgery in July 2005 to repair an enlarged aortic root.

“For me, it was such a pleasure sharing my story with a kid like that because he’s looking up to us as NBA players,” Turiaf said. “For me to help him out, to just relieve some pressure and some sadness out of him, was a definite pleasure for me.”

Turiaf didn’t hesitate in giving Zuniga his phone number as well.

“When you go through something like that, you’ve got to have somebody to talk to,” Turiaf said. “It was the same thing with me and (former Minnesota guard) Fred Hoiberg. If I didn’t have him, it would have been so tough for me to go through it on a daily basis.

“Every little kid that has trouble, they can talk to me on a daily basis. I wouldn’t mind lifting them up at all.”

The NBAs Shoot for Hope program brought Zuniga and his family to Los Angeles. He attended Fridays game and met with the Lakers players in the locker room beforehand.

* * *

A couple of quotes from the Orlando side of things:

Grant Hill on Kobe Bryant: “He kind of reminds me of playing how he played when Shaq was here to a degree. He’s a facilitator of the ball and he’s a closer. He maybe got away from that a little bit a couple of years ago, but now he’s back doing that and he’s got a nice tempo to his game.”

You might remember Magic coach Brian Hill’s comment about the “Smush Parkers of the league” from when the Lakers played in Orlando on Dec. 27. Well, Parker had a career-high 26 points Friday and Hill was asked afterward about what he said.

“We still can’t let him beat us,” Hill said. “What I’m saying is . . . I’m not demeaning him as a player. We have to do a better job on players like that. That’s what I mean by that statement. We have to work harder to shut down players like that and not let them have big games when they’re playing alongside a star player like Kobe Bryant.”

* * *

Bryant said his strained groin felt 98 percent in the game and he barely thought about it at all. Bryant undoubtedly was limited by the injury, but he clearly had a game plan for how he wanted to play.

“We had the floor spaced because everybody had shot the ball so well for the first 3 1-2 quarters,” Bryant said. “So in the fourth quarter, when I caught the ball in isolation situations, no double (team) was coming.

“If I’d started doing that the first quarter, you’d see doubles coming and zones shifting and all the other stuff. The fourth quarter, that didn’t happen because everybody was a threat.

“So then, I could operate. I could size Grant up, I could raise up, shoot my jump shots or pull-ups.”

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

For all the attention paid to Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard, the NBAs next-generation centers sharing the floor Friday night at Staples Center, Kobe Bryant offered a reminder that the present unmistakably belongs to him.

So does the fourth quarter, for that matter.

Playing on a strained left groin, Bryant scored 16 of his game-high 28 points in the final quarter as the Lakers avoided their first three-game losing streak of the season with a 109-106 victory over the Orlando Magic.

“We need Kobe to step up big for us like that late in the game, guard Smush Parker said. “He has the ability to do that any time he wants. He did it. He put on his cape tonight and he carried us for another victory.

Bryant paced and measured the game for three quarters, in coach Phil Jacksons estimation, and shifted gears in the fourth. He made all five shots he took, went 6 of 6 from the foul line and scored the Lakers last 10 points.

“I just wanted to make sure we got back to ball movement and spacing the floor, so I kind of took the lead in making sure we executed properly, Bryant said. “Then in the fourth quarter, I was able to space things out and get some pretty good looks.

Parker finished with a career-high 26 points and hit 5 of 8 3-pointers while Bynum totaled just eight points and five rebounds while battling foul trouble. Howard led the Magic with 25 points and 10 rebounds but made just 7 of 16 free throws.

With the game tied in the last two minutes, Orlando went inside to Darko Milicic and Howard for two baskets. Bryant answered by drilling jumpers from 21 feet and 12 feet against Grant Hill, the second of which put the Lakers in front for good 107-105.

Bryant also secured the games biggest rebound after Howard missed two free throws with 41.0 seconds left. Parker came up with a steal with 9.8 seconds left but left the door open by missing two free throws.

“Smush has an issue about free throws and I have an issue with him about his free throws, Jackson said of Parker, shooting 64.4 percent at the line. “It just goes back about using his legs. He has yet to find his rhythm on the free throw line this season.

Those misses would not cost the Lakers the game. Jameer Nelson couldnt get a tying 3-pointer at the buzzer to fall and the Lakers improved to 17-4 at home, bouncing back after road losses at Memphis and Houston.

It was Parkers second big game against the Magic this season, coming after Orlando coach Brian Hill said, “We cant be giving the Smush Parkers of the league quarters like that on Dec. 27. Parker scored 18 of his 20 points in the third quarter that night.

“I was told the next day what he said, Parker said. “I just used that as motivation to come in tonight and play well.

There are few players in the NBA, meanwhile, that the 19-year-old Bynum can relate to at such a young age. Howard is one of them, having been a No. 1 overall pick out of high school in 2004. The two plan to work out together this summer, according to Bynum.

They met last season and have developed a friendship. Bynum said last month that he admires everything Howard has done by his 21st birthday, including his selection as Eastern Conference Player of the Month for November.

The matchup Friday was not meant to be. Bynum picked up two fouls early in the second quarter and his fourth foul 3:36 into the third. He came back for the fourth quarter and made a spectacular block as Keyon Dooling went up for a baseline dunk.

But Bynum was called for his fifth foul – - an illegal screen on Carlos Arroyo – - with 9:22 remaining. Ronny Turiaf wound up playing 30 minutes and had five blocks at the defensive end.

“It was a great learning experience for me out there, Bynum said. “Hes really big and hes pretty strong. Ive got to get a stronger base when I go up against him.

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